Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Don’t throw away those carrot peels!

I can’t stand to waste things, especially food. I’m not hoarding take-out boxes or shopping bags, but it kills me to throw away perfectly good food. A while back, I found a great way to actually use some of the food that I used to throw away almost every day—things like onion peels, bell pepper cores, celery leaves.

I make vegetable stock.

Why? Well, there’s my obvious need to do something useful with food scraps (and they don’t really lend themselves to crafting). All those vitamins and nutrients that used to go in the trash are now being infused into things like rice, couscous, and soups. I use it for anything that I used to cook with water or chicken stock.

Plus, I haven’t bought canned chicken stock in two years. This saves a few bucks, and—more importantly—there’s one less processed food item in my house. And one less thing I have to remember at the grocery store (Bonus!).

So, here’s the deal. When you’re prepping your vegetables, collect all the peels and odd bits you trim off (make sure they’re clean). Instead of throwing them away,
throw them into a produce bag and store it in the freezer. Also, because it’s going into the freezer, you can “salvage” any vegetables that have passed their prime but are still fine to eat (like limp celery).

I have only three rules.

First, always include onion, celery, and carrot; it’s just not vegetable stock with those three. Anything extra will add depth to the flavors—bell peppers, mushrooms, green beans, squash.

Second, never include cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts). They will ruin the flavor.

Third, no salt. I use this stock to add flavor when I’m cooking other things, and I’ll add salt to those dishes later.

When my bag is full of frozen veggie waste, I dump it into a large stockpot. I usually have some Italian parsley growing, so I throw in some of that, along with 5 or 6 peppercorns, a couple of bay leaves, and a couple of cloves of garlic (peeled and cut in half). I cover it all with about 8 cups of water, bring it to a boil, and then simmer for about an hour. Cool, strain, and store it in the freezer.

Seriously, that’s all it takes. I know it sounds a little over-achieving to be making your own stock on a regular basis, but it’s just SO easy. Trust me, I’m no Martha Stewart.

For storing the stock, I’ve come up with a system that makes it easy to quickly thaw and use.

I pour the cooled stock through a strainer into a large 4-cup measuring cup (I usually have more than 4 cups, so I do this twice). Now, this is the really handy part: I measure it out 1 cup at a time into ziplock bags (someday I’ll get the right non-disposable containers) that I keep in the door of the freezer. It’s sooooo easy to pull out a bag of frozen stock, thaw it in the sink, and pour it into a pot of rice, couscous, or whatever. I also keep at least one 4-cup container for making soups or stews.

If you’re really thrifty, you’ll dump the cooked-down veggie mash into your compost pile. How’s that for squeezing every bit out of your produce?

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